Blazin' Saddles

The winner’s a winker

Blazin' Saddles

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Andy Schleck may have taken the Tour's Tourmalet queen stage but it will be his winking rival Alberto Contador who will ride into Paris in yellow.

Not that Andy seems too bothered by it all. He's too busy being star struck in the company of a soon-to-be triple Tour winner.

What's more, Schleck's second stage victory of the race seemed rather scripted - as if he and Contador had decided, at some point during the final nine kilometres of attrition they rode more or less side by side, that it would be that way.

You take the stage; I'll take the Tour. Deal? Well, Andy wasn't complaining. He probably realises that at the moment there's more that splits him from his rival than a mere chain slip. The Luxembourger has driven the Spaniard far closer this year, but it ultimately has come to nothing.

Schleck knew his win on the Tourmalet meant very little in the grand scheme of things, which is presumably why he only celebrated with a rather half-hearted punch to the air. He had to celebrate such a prestigious win - but he could hardly go all out with a double armed salute knowing that the Tour was now out of his hands.

And then we had that sickening scene as both riders almost exchanged bodily fluids after the gruelling summit finish. Once off their bikes, Contador, amid the cries, shouted out "Andy" and then repeatedly tapped his minion on the cheek; and once Schleck looked into his eyes, Contador pulled out the move that showed who really was boss: the wink.

So much meaning in one slight movement of the left eyelid. At its most basic level, the wink was confirmation that the finish we had just witnessed had been a pre-ordained scam: neither rider could break the other and so Schleck would take the stage because Contador's glory - in the ITT, at Paris, maybe both - was still to come.

The wink also served to put Schleck in his place; a supposedly magnanimous gesture from a rider who had recently had his sense of fair-play questioned by riders, pundits and the public alike.

So, we go into the "deciding" time trial with just eight seconds splitting the two top riders. Eight seconds - as symbolic a time difference if ever there was one. In 1989, Laurent Fignon lost the Tour to Greg Lemond by eight seconds. The Frenchman, who had won twice in '83 and '84, spends the whole first chapter of his excellent autobiography agonising over those "eight seconds in Hell".

Could you imagine Schleck losing so much sleep over his own eight seconds of mild discomfort? No, not really. He's got his two stages, a white jersey and another runner-up place on the podium. But where's the ambition? Where's that revenge he promised three days ago after Chaingate?

At one point during the Tourmalet climb, Schleck looked to be goading his rival. He was presumably daring the Spaniard to show just what he had left in the tank after an opening section dominated by the man in the white jersey. Or, as David Harmon so eloquently lip-read, something along the lines of: "Come on if you think you're hard enough. It isn't time for beer and tapas now, chico."

Contador responded with a sudden surge of pace, but this was easily matched by Schleck, who drew alongside his friend - sorry, rival - and continued his apparent goading. In hindsight, however, this was probably where the two decided to call it quits. Maybe they were swapping summer holiday plans?

If only it were Fignon and Lemond out there in a Tour where both riders walked the walk as well as talked the talk. So many empty promises by Schleck. Did he ever get the revenge he promised? No. Did he show the anger in his belly? Hardly - he kissed and made up with his enemy at the first given opportunity.

Will the winner of the Tourmalet go on to win the Tour, as Schleck himself predicted? No. Because Contador never needed to win and so carried out his ride in a professional manner - but one which failed to deliver the fireworks we all hoped for.

The '89 Tour saw the yellow jersey jump from the shoulders of the two principal protagonists six times; the 2010 Tour has experienced that just the once - and even then it wasn't down to a racing scenario. The polka dot jersey in '89 was Gert-Jan Theunisse; this year it's Anthony bloody Charteau, with Christophe flipping Moreau driving him a close second.

Saddles' overriding point is here isn't anything big or special. Maybe he's just sad that these modern day rivalries are but watered down versions of those more fiery pairings in the past. Deep down, we all know Contador will be in yellow on Sunday - and we all knew it not only throughout the Tour but before it has even begun. In fact, we knew it last year. What's more, we know that will be the result next year too.

But what we wanted was for someone at least to take it to him and ask him some deep and serious questions. For all his likability and strength in the mountains, Schleck has not done that. Why? Because for him, second place is ok; it's what's expected. Quel dommage, as they say in France.

Quote of the day #1: "At the end of the stage, he did not really sprint, he showed great respect, it was important for me to win this stage." Is Saddles the only one who believes that Contador would have shown more respect to Schleck had he actually contested the stage victory?

Quote of the day #2: "Of course I have not won a stage but the main goal is to win the Tour." Alberto, where's the ruthlessness, the passion, the ambition?

Quote of the day #3: "I'm all for courtesy, but let's get SOME racing in or change it to a 23 day group ride waiting for everybody." Cervelo owner Gerard Vroomen's tweeted reaction to the opposition Carlos Sastre encountered after he broke clear following Samuel Sanchez's crash early on in the stage.

Quote of the day #4: "Great u showed everybody that u are a big champ." Frank Schleck sends a tweet to Contador. Did he intend to write champ or chump?

Word of the day: Schlose - n. Luxembourgeois term for a Pyrrhic victory. Eg. John Gadret may have finished 18th in Bagneres de Luchon but everyone knew they were witnessing a big schlose as he crossed the line.

Stage 18 prediction: After the excitement of the Pyrenees expect a quite staid affair on Friday as the remaining riders cross the flat, straight, long, forest-lined roads of Les Landes and head into Bore-deaux. On paper it's one for the sprinters but it wouldn't surprise Saddles if Sylvain Chavanel tries to pull off a triple.

Plat du jour: BS is something of a specialist here. You see, he spent almost a year of his University life living, working, and most importantly eating and drinking, in Bordeaux. Tuck into a Salade Landaise for lunch, complete with duck gizzards and smoked magret.

For dinner, Saddles would suggest you book yourself in to La Tupina for some authentic cuisine Sud-Ouest - they spit roast meats on an open fire exceptionally well. Or try something more gastronomic at Le Vieux Bordeaux where the foie gras crème brûlée and pigeon breast is divine.

For post-prandial drinks, head down to La Comtesse bar near the stunning Place du Parliament for a cooling glass of Entre-Deux-Mers dry white wine. If you bump into the affable proprietor Georges, do send him BS's regards - after all, Saddles used to be one of the barmen.

Peloton prattle: Which rider is so chuffed at being named Nicolas Sarkozy's favourite man on two wheels that he now wears a small memento of the President's around his neck.

Uses for Team Sky #1: Erm... er... broadening the horizons of Sky Sports News presenters?

Follow Blazin' Saddles throughout the Tour on www.twitter.com/saddleblaze.

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